Features of Quality Child Care
Despite the great diversity in child-care arrangements and the wide variations in state regulations governing center-based and family child-care homes, there is much agreement among professionals on the characteristics of quality child care needed to provide the safe, healthy, and nurturing environments that parents want and children deserve.
High-quality care is the result of a combination of a healthy and safe environment together with educational and social stimulation appropriate to the age and development of the children being served (Fraenkel, 2003). These features of quality child care include both structural elements relating to the physical environment and staffing requirement and process elements relating to curricular practices, caregiver qualities, and parental involvement (Wortham, 2006).
The structural elements of a child-care environment establish the foundation for optimal process conditions. Characteristics of the child-care space, for example, are structural elements. The square footage required for each child, the amount and kind of outdoor space, the requirements for furniture, sinks, toilets, windows, flooring material, and myriad other details related to the classroom, kitchen facilities, bathrooms, and diaper-changing areas are included in this category. The adult–child ratio, amount of initial and continuing staff training required, plus the salaries, benefits, and working requirements for staff are all structural elements of child care.
The individual licensing requirements of each state sets minimum expectations for many of the structural elements, and a center or family child-care home can get licensed by meeting these requirements. Unfortunately, these minimum standards do not necessarily lead to a quality program, and professional organizations and individuals have established optimal structural elements that can have a large impact on program quality. For example, although the state may only require one adult for every eight two-year-olds and have no limit on the number in the total group, recommendations from the Center for Career Development in Early Care and Education at Wheelock College recommends a ratio of four children to one adult, with a maximum group size of 12 (Children’s Defense Fund, 2001). High adult–child ratios are considered one of the strongest structural elements in supporting the intellectual and social development of children in child care and are important indicators of quality.
Quality programs also set up inviting environments with an abundance of appropriate resources (furniture, equipment, materials, and toys), often far above the minimum requirements. The requirements for staff education and continued training are also above minimum requirements in quality centers.
Process quality refers to the experiences children have in child care and include such aspects as adult–child interactions, children’s exposure to and involvement with learning materials, and parent– caregiver relationships. These are critical components that directly affect children’s behavior and learning experiences in the child-care setting.
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